"Harvesting Tomatoes and Fishing With Nets"

Matthew 13: 47-50    Harvesting Tomatoes and Fishing with Nets  August 18, 2019


The 13th chapter of Matthew is one parable after another. The parable of a treasure in a field. The parable of a pearl of great value. The parable of the mustard seed. And today, we hear the parable of the net. They all use different images, but they all have one thing in common. Jesus says they all tell us something about the Kingdom of God.

Let us listen for the Word of God…


47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


When I was in high school in the state of Indiana, sometime about the second week of August, we earned money by harvesting tomatoes. There were two ways to harvest tomatoes. The hard way to harvest tomatoes was to go to each plant individually. It was always hot. We’d have to bend over each plant and pick the tomatoes that were ripe and leave the rest. It was hard work.

The fun way to harvest tomatoes was to ride on a harvester. A tomato harvester is this big machine that goes down the rows and digs up the whole tomato plant. The plant goes up a conveyor belt which shakes the plants. The plants drop tomatoes onto another belt. This belt goes past the workers who stand under an awning. We’d grab the good tomatoes which end up in the land of ketchup. The other tomatoes, the bad tomatoes, were dumped out the back where they’d weep and gnash their teeth.

The harvester was fun because we stood next to other people. As we worked, we could sing, and talk and tell jokes. I got some of my best jokes there...I may have forgotten what they are, but I am sure I got them there! 


Seems to me that this image of the tomato harvester is kind of like Jesus’ parable of the net. God is the great Harvester of heaven who will pick up every plant, every person, from the plant which bears 20 tomatoes to the plant that has only one rotten piece of fruit. God will pick up everyone as God goes along. God will save us all.

In some ways it’s a lovely vision, isn’t it? Heaven is the place where we’ll all finally be redeemed. All those people who did lots of great things will be there. All the rest of us, who did a few small good things will be there. And, even those people who, due to no fault of their own, never could quite do much of anything at all, will be there too. All of us finally together as one people, in heaven. We will finally be in the one place where we are no longer judged by how much fruit we bear. We will just be there because the great Gardener of Heaven can’t bear to be without us. Of course, even that lovely vision has its problems. If everyone goes to heaven, then where is justice? Will the people who walk into Walmart’s, movie theatres and schools to shoot innocent people have a seat next to Mother Teresa? An all-accepting heaven is probably just as troubling as the idea of an eternal hell.

Growing up in a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, there were a few things we knew for sure – for one - WE Lutherans were going to heaven and the better part of the world was not. I remember my Lutheran pastor telling me the story of a man who died and went to heaven. St. Peter is giving him a tour around the place. It’s just how Jesus described it. People were happy and laughing and the man even saw a few people he didn’t think he would see in heaven. Then as they approached a certain room, St. Peter said, “Now we have to be real quiet passing this room.” “How come,” asked the man. St. Peter: “This is where the Missouri Synod Lutherans live – they think they are the only one here!”


In the parable today, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a net which is thrown into the sea. It gathered fish of every kind. The first thing to notice is the word translated as “fish” is not in the Greek at all. The Greek word here means EVERYTHING. It says the net gathered EVERYTHING. The kind of net Jesus is talking about is a drag net. When you would throw it out into the sea, you would literally get everything: seaweed, license plates, shoes and all kinds of fish: good fish, bad fish, little fish, kind fish and grumpy fish.

That’s how it can be at church. We get all kinds in here too. And, there are somedays, we are not all that happy about it.

I suspect we’ve a hard time coming to worship because there is someone in the church we didn’t like. Have you ever had that feeling? We don’t want to come to church because so and so will be there!? Whenever I hear people tell me they don’t go to worship because there are too many hypocrites there, I am tempted to say, “Don’t worry. We always have room for one more.” Right?

OR - Maybe we avoid worship because we didn’t much care for ourselves? I can recall relatives telling me I shouldn’t come to worship unless my heart is right with God. But, then I wondered, “How does one get right with God if we avoid the one place designed to get us right with God?”

It ends up being a mess if we aren’t careful. We don’t go to worship because they aren’t good enough or we don’t go because we don’t feel we are good enough. So, we all stay home and somehow, we are all lesser for it. We’re not supposed to decide who are the good fish and who are the bad fish. We are not supposed to alienate anyone – not even ourselves.

Listen to the parable.

…the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous...


In the parable, who is separating the good fish from the bad fish? The angels will do that, right? Separating and dividing and choosing who is welcome and who isn’t welcome, is not our job. Our job, the job of the Church, is to simply throw out the net and draw everything in. We might not like what we get. We might not agree with every fish. But, if the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, says, “I want them all,” what place do we have to say, “No!”?

The theologian, Robert Capon, once wrote, “For the church to act as if it dare not have any dealings with sinners is as much a betrayal of its mission as it would be for a hospital to turn away sick people or for a carpenter to refuse to touch rough-cut wood.”

God knows every church has all kinds of fish. We have minnows, barracudas, sharks, tunas, jellyfish, dolphins, you name it. Most of the fish are pretty good, but we have a few biters. It stinks when people in the church are mean, but we are in the fishing business and that stinks now and then. Too often, we want to separate those people from these people, but that is God’s job not ours.

Our business, and when I say, our business, I mean the business of the church is to throw out the net of grace and then pull it in. The more different the fish, the better we must be doing. There will be a judgement, we just won’t be the ones doing it. We throw out grace.

We leave the rest up to God. And, the more faithfully we throw out the grace, the more amazing the catch will be.

The Baptist minister Tony Campolo, tells about a time when he was asked to officiate at a funeral service for a young man who died of AIDS – this was years ago when the stigma was perhaps at its worse. There was no funeral, just a service at the grave side with about 30 men. He wasn’t entirely sure what to say since he didn’t know the man and he didn’t know any of the people there either. So besides sharing a few words of comfort, he decided he would just read a couple passages from the Bible. So, he read from the 23rd Psalm and then Isaiah 40. He closed with a pray, gave the benediction and was prepared to see them slowly drift away. Except they didn’t. They stood there silent for the longest time. Eventually, one of the men spoke up. He said, “Would you read to us some more? It has been a long time since we have been in church.” It seems many of the men didn’t feel comfortable going to church or churches didn’t make them feel comfortable, so they stayed away. But, they wanted to hear more and so that is what he did. For the next 30 minutes, he read from the Bible.


Our calling is to throw out the net of God’s grace. We do not need to sort out who hears it. We don’t need to determine who is worthy and who is not, who will bear fruit or who will not – that’s simply not our concern. Our concern is to follow the will of the Master. Be his disciples. Share his words. Practice his love. Let God do the rest.



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